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National Press Conference on COVID-19 Surge Highlights Growing Threat to Grocery Workers on Frontlines of the Pandemic this Thanksgiving

November 23, 2020

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Union for 1.3 Million Workers Calls on Top Grocery Chains to Strengthen Safeguards, Enforce Masks in Stores, Reinstate Hazard Pay

UFCW Announces 350 Frontline Worker Deaths and 48,000 Frontline Workers Infected or Exposed as COVID-19 Cases Skyrocket

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) hosted a national press call on the new surge in COVID-19 cases across the country and the growing impact on grocery workers who are still on the frontlines of the pandemic and working without hazard pay despite the growing risks. Click here for video recording of today’s press call.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone highlighted the growing danger as holiday shopping begins. The following are excerpts from today’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“America’s essential workers are facing a holiday season of unparalleled danger as COVID-19 cases explode across the country. With more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases in the past week, and deaths spiking to unprecedented levels, we are entering what could be the deadliest phase of this pandemic for millions of America’s essential frontline workers. 

“Simply put, frontline workers are terrified because their employers and our elected leaders are not doing enough to protect them and stop the spread of this virus.

“As holiday shopping begins this Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge surge of customer traffic. Unless we take immediate actions beginning this holiday week, many more essential workers will become sick and more, tragically, will die.  

“As this threat of this pandemic grows, so will the threat to our communities – and our food supply. Given the spikes in Covid-19 cases and deaths we are all witnessing, it is time for our elected leaders and this nation’s food and retail CEOs to take immediate action.”

BACKGROUND:

UFCW confirmed the rapidly growing impact of COVID-19 on frontline workers as the pandemic rages on. New UFCW numbers show that among the union’s members, there have been at least 350 frontline worker deaths – including 109 grocery worker deaths from COVID-19. In addition, the union reported there have been at least 48,000 frontline workers infected or exposed, including over 17,400 grocery workers infected or exposed to the virus.

UFCW outlined new initiatives the union is taking to pressure retailers and elected leaders:

  1. Holiday Shop Smart Campaign – UFCW is launching a customer safety education effort, targeting regions with major COVID-19 spikes. Customers are urged to wear a mask, follow social distancing and safely discard masks – whenever they shop. 
  1. Letter to Top Retail and Grocery CEOs – UFCW will be sending a letter demanding that all of the major food retail companies publicly support new health, safety, and wage standards throughout this holiday season, for union and non-union workers, and as long as the current spike in cases persists. UFCW will outline the following priorities:
    1. Free Covid-19 Testing for Frontline Workers
    2. Free PPE for Frontline Workers
    3. Mask Enforcement for All Customers at All Stores
    4. Paid Sick Leave for All Frontline Workers Sick or Exposed
    5. Hazard Pay Immediately Reinstated for all Frontline Workers
    6. Freeze all stock buybacks by companies until this pandemic is under control. 
  1. Call on Nation’s Governors for Safety Enforcement – UFCW will urge each state’s governor to immediately adopt stronger and uniform Covid-19 safety standards at all food and retail stores across the entire country.  

A new Brookings Institution report reveals huge profits for grocery chains that have failed to reinstate hazard pay for frontline workers facing exposure to COVID-19 every day:

  • Amazon (owner of Whole Foods) reports profits up 53 percent even as it ended hazard pay, fired whistleblowers, and revealed at least 20,000 workers infected.
  • Walmart profits are up 45 percent. Instead of hazard pay, the company is giving its frontline workers a $10 Thanksgiving gift card for a turkey
  • Kroger’s profits are up 90 percent and yet they refuse to restore hazard pay despite the growing number of grocery worker infections. Even worse, just weeks after authorizing $1 billion in new stock buybacksKroger is seeking to make healthcare cuts for many of its workers despite this health crisis getting worse by the day. 
  • Most top retailers ended hazard pay in June – on average, more than 130 days ago.
  • Now, over 6 million frontline retail workers face the deadliest phase of the pandemic they are being asked to take on more terrifying risks without the hazard pay they earned.

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UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more at www.ufcw.org.